May 23rd, 2013
By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President
The title is meant to be a bit clever. I am not talking about actual focus groups; I am referring to the term. I have always suspected that focus group was used to refer to any casual, open-ended, small sample, non-projectable research method. And, I always thought that those who used the term this way were misinformed. Well, I have to throw in the towel. I have no better authority than the Pew Research Center.
Its recent project exploring teens, their use of social media, and their attitudes to on-line privacy has generated a good deal of buzz in the press. It merits an extended discussion in the future. But, what caught my eye was the research method. There was a phone survey, twenty-four focus groups conducted in four markets, and “two online focus groups…conducted as an asynchronous threaded discussion over three days using an online platform, and the participants were asked to log in twice per day.”
This is what we at C+R Research call a short-term online community. To be sure, we conduct focus groups. We may even conduct focus groups online. But, we are careful to distinguish between the two methods — focus groups and communities. We believe each has its strengths that make each appropriate to particular situations and sets of issues.
- Focus Groups are great when consumers need to be pressed on their reactions by the give-and-take of face-to-face interaction. This is true when it is important to assess how emotionally committed they are in their reactions to something such as a new product concept.
- Online communities make it easier for consumers to describe their behavior and feelings at length, often in a nurturing, unthreatening environment. So, when it is important to explore the behavior of consumers and their emotional involvement in that behavior, online communities are just the ticket. When I want to know the needs that drive category usage and explore the gaps, an online community is a good place to start.
That is why experience is so important. When the marketing manager says, “We need to do focus groups,” he/she probably means we need to collect information in a way that isn’t a survey. It is the experienced qualitative researcher, familiar with a range of methods and categories, who can determine whether those “focus groups” should be online communities, individual interviews, ethnographies, in-store observations, or, yes, focus groups.
May 15th, 2013
By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President
There is a good deal of received wisdom about the grocery store design and how it can both engage the consumer and structure her progress through the store. The strategy of placing the more engaging areas, such as the deli and meat, around the perimeter of the store and the packaged items in the center of the store is well known. End-caps capture attention as well as the shelves at eye level.
All of these strategies create the impression that the store is well-organized and the trip through it regular and structured. I must say that my experience shadowing and interviewing consumers through the store seems to confirm this. A series of shopping trips through the same store often seems similar as the shoppers follow close to the same route through the store, examining many of the same items.
But, my most recent trip to the grocery store has caused me to re-think this order. I walked through the first set of doors and grabbed my cart. I went through the second set of doors and turned right into the produce department. How typical. But, as often happens in the grocery, I bumped another shopper. I looked at her and then glanced around at the others in the produce department. There were about five of us. Now, fast forward. I am in the checkout line. As I am placing things on the conveyor, I drop a can on the floor. Again, the break in the typical action causes me to look around. There are two people behind me and two more in the aisle next to me. None of them were among the group with whom I began my journey through the store forty minutes earlier. We all might have made it to the deli together, but with each twist and turn we went our separate ways.
Progress through the grocery store is not as regular as we might think, or hope. Each shopper is a bit like a molecule bouncing about in space. As time passes, it becomes increasingly impossible to know where each molecule is, where it came from and where it is going. Getting the attention of a substantial number of shoppers in the store, therefore, is a difficult task. For each one of them the context is constantly changing, and context structures the meaning of any communication.
So, what should one do to get a consistent message to the most shoppers in the grocery store?
- Get shoppers before they are in the store. This, of course, is the classic strategy of the weekly flyer. But, now it is necessary to get some shoppers on the their mobile devices too.
- Get them at the entrance. If shoppers are going to scatter in unpredictable ways throughout the store, displays near the door will have impact on the greatest number of shoppers.
- Be as disruptive as possible. Encamps have some impact, but a pallet of a product in the middle of the aisle has to be noticed.
- Have messages in as many places as possible. The package on the shelf may have the best expression of you message, but it is in only one place in the store. Products in multiple places will have more impact. Advertising in the store also extends the react of the product’s message.
- Provide a more interactive store experience. The store is not the constant. It is the shopper who is the constant. If the shopper can be reached in the store wherever she is through a combination of WiFi and Interior GPS, the experience can be controlled for all shoppers. It won’t matter if they are standing in front of a particular display, the product’s message can reach her in any related part of the store. Or, as she passes your product, she can be alerted it’s there–more disruptive behavior.
The analogue experience of walking through a grocery store is unpredictable and difficult to control. Technology, however, can make the shopper the focus of the shopping experience, assuring that each shopper receives the same message or a message tailored to her particular wants and needs.
On May 3rd, the QRCA Southeast Chapter meeting held in Atlanta will feature Shaili Bhatt, a Research Director here at C+R Research and a member of QRCA’s Board of Directors. Shaili will be presenting, “Unleashing the Power of Advanced Online Qualitative Approaches.”
For much of the recent past, the paradigm for improving online qualitative research has focused on the fundamentals of project set-up, platform technologies, and the addition of online moderating skill-sets. We are missing the real story: how are researchers using these tools and what are the results? How can we empower researchers with more advanced approaches?
This presentation will feature a high-level overview across a gallery of case studies for cutting-edge and creative online qualitative designs. Attendees will learn how today’s qualitative practitioners are hearing the “consumer story” in an online environment and translating their findings into awe-inspiring reporting results.
March 19th, 2013
By Jorge Martinez, Director, LatinoEyes
When C+R first began conducting Hispanic research, one of the difficulties was finding participants. The methods we were using within the general population were not effective. We would turn to dedicated recruiters who were wired in to the local Hispanic communities to find focus group participants. At times, they would shepherd the participants to the facility as a group in a van. It was complicated and dicey.
We have been slowly been moving away from such unusual tactics. And, it is with a good deal of excitement that we read the latest report from the Pew Research’s Hispanic Center indicating that the Hispanic population in the US is closing the “digital divide.” Hispanics’ use of the internet (78%) ids equal to that of the African American community and now approaches the level (87%) of the white population. Their use of the internet (86%) is almost equal to that of non-Hispanic whites (90%) and edges above African-Americans (84%).
What is most interesting about Hispanics as they cross the digital divide is that they are in the vanguard of the transition to mobile. A higher proportion of them (76%) access the internet with a cellphone or other handheld device than whites (60%), and even slightly more than African-Americans (73%). And for a variety of reasons, they are more likely to live in cellphone only households (47%) than either African Americans (38%) or non-Hispanic whites (30%).
So, it is clear that efforts to understand the tastes, preferences, and attitudes of today’s Hispanics can take place in the digital space and, increasingly, in the mobile leading edge of that world. But, doing so will still require keeping in mind some of the basic principles we have observed exploring the Hispanics community with more conventional means.
- Hispanic participants still need to be given language options when they participate in a survey or an online community. It is important to remember that fluency in either language does not define Hispanic identity, and that research with Hispanics does not mean that research must be done exclusively in Spanish. Self-perceptions of language ability do not always match actual competency. Some desire to use Spanish even beyond the limits of their actual competency. It may even make sense in a qualitative environment to allow participants to move back and forth between English and Spanish guided by moderators who are equally fluid.
- We still need to be attentive and accommodate contextual and cultural differences within the Latino community. Even though Spanish may be the common language the range of linguistic and cultural variation is considerable and can present even more of a problem in a communications medium that feels as casual as “mobile.”
- Our experience conducting qualitative research suggests how important relationships and the social dynamic are within the Hispanic community. When interacting with Latinos in a digital environment, we need to provide space for this interpersonal dynamic if we are going to generate meaningful insights.
Online methods may not be appropriate for all research into the Hispanic community. More traditional, face-to-face approaches are still required for reaching older, unacculturated Hispanics. Yet, we are now in an era when digital approaches can be as successful with Hispanic respondents and with any other group.
March 8th, 2013
By Bob Relihan
Last year I discussed why it may be wise to employ qualitative methods after a quantitative investigation. This approach, of course, reverses the traditional order of such things. Many of us were taught to use in-depth interviews or focus groups to generate hypotheses for quantitative testing. But, as product development cycles get shortened it is tempting to short-circuit the initial qualitative phase of a research program and move straight to quantification. Marketers, after all, know their category and their consumers. Right?
Here are 3 reasons why early qualitative research will make the design and analysis of quantitative projects smoother and more precise.
- Consumers really do define words in unexpected ways. I recently completed a series of individual interviews of customers who purchased a particular product. This product was available as either a “custom” item or “off-the-shelf.” I recruited customers of each product type for my interviews. To my surprise, many of those I thought would be “custom” buyers turned out to purchase non-custom products. What happened? It turned out that there were so many varieties of off-the-shelf products, customers often printed the names of the items they purchased. The product was just what they needed. It was “custom.” If I had used my screener to fill quotas of “custom” and “off-the-shelf” users for a large scale survey of product attitudes and usage, my results would have been incomprehensible or, worse yet, clear but wrong.
- Consumers really do view categories differently. I was exploring product usage in a category that the brand managers divided into four groups —premium brands, value brands, bargain brands, and low-price brands. Each of these categories represented a different price point and value proposition. Consumers just didn’t see the category that way. Any product in the category was either a “name brand” or a “generic” —each of which had very different price expectations. If we looked at the results of a brand image survey based upon the four slices of the category marketers saw, we would probably have confused results that would be more clear viewed through the two-segment lens consumers used.
- Consumers really classify products in unusual ways. From the perspective of brand managers, a category is often defined by attributes of production and distribution that may be irrelevant to consumers. Designing a quantitative study based on these assumptions can be misleading. For example, “salty snacks” is a category that makes sense to marketers because it corresponds to how products are distributed and displayed in stores. It makes some sense to consumers, but it is not perfect. When I have explored salty snack qualitatively with consumers, I always make sure that we consider candy, cookies, frozen single-serve pizzas, apples — anything that can is consumed at a non-meal occasion. The brand manager may say these aren’t in my category. But what happens in the interview? We often discover that some salty snacks —pretzels, for example — have as much in common with chocolates as they do with other salty snacks. And, these associations reveal a range of relevant attributes we would not have seen if we had limited our exploration to just “salty snacks.”
So, if you want to have maximum confidence in you quantitative instrument and in the results it produces, a qualitative first step is invaluable. You really do need to “measure twice and cut once.” Moreover, it is much more efficient if your qualitative consultant actually works with your quantitative consultant, discussing the issues in depth rather than simply passing on a report of qualitative findings.
March 1st, 2013
By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President
The holiday season has become a benchmark for the forward progress of online and mobile shopping activity. Pew has reported that 58% of cellphone owners used their phones in a store to get information to guide their shopping.
- 46% of cellphone owners used their phones to call a friend or family member for advice.
- 28% of cellphone owners used their phones to look up product reviews.
- 27% of cellphone owners used their phones to look up the price of a product.
Of course, younger smartphone owners were much more likely to engage in these behaviors.
These are remarkable numbers, but what has more an interesting implication for those interested in the future of mobile research and online communities are the demographics that did not make the headlines. To be sure, men and women check reviews and prices with their phones at roughly similar rates. But, to seek advice…. Hardly!
Is this another example of men not asking for directions? Partially, I suppose. but it is a bit more complex than that. If you listen to phone conversations in stores (I confess to being a compulsive eavesdropper), you will hear two very different exchanges. Painting with a very broad brush, women seen to call from the grocery store and ask family members what they want. “Do you want Rocky Road or Chocolate Mint Chip?” “What would you like for lunch?” Men, on the other hand, tend to ask about the “List.” “I can’t find Dole; is it OK to get Del Monte?” “You said steak, but what kind?”
In other words, women seem to check with home because they want to get it right; they want to make sure everyone is happy. Men seem to check because they don’t want to get it wrong. Or, they don’t worry and don’t call.
So, from the perspective of research, this is mixed news. Mobile data collection seems to be the way to go. People are “transmitting data” already. The same can’t be said for taking surveys; they exist almost exclusively in the context of research. But, if we want to integrate that mobile activity into an online community, many women may be there already. Men, on the other hand, may not be.
February 14th, 2013
By Shaili Bhatt, Senior Analyst
In this era of over-sharing, curated storytelling is imperative. While many of us own and use smartphones as cameras, it’s a challenge to remember to do something with the pictures and videos that we capture with these devices.
Many of us love to capture pictures and videos on our phones, and more often than not, we try to publish the most irresistible moments in our social galleries. (There’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment when I can share my stories and memories—perhaps you can relate.)
This is no different for our market research projects. If anything, it’s even more important to share key pictures and videos from our projects to help tell the story across clients’ reports and presentations.
Whether we want to make an album, an elaborate scrapbook, float it all in the Cloud on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or deliver an outstanding report or presentation that really gets to the heart of the story with consumers and clients—most DIY options can be overwhelming, expensive, and for some, it can feel like a chore.
It is time to rethink the way we share mobile pictures and videos—and consume other mobile media—and look for tech-savvy time-savers.
Recently, I was excited to run across a bunch of new, free iPhone apps with robust movie-making and storytelling capabilities: Qwiki, Givit, Magisto, Viddy and Splice. These tools allow anyone with an iPhone to turn pictures and videos into a brief movie that you can share in minutes! On my way home last night, I snapped some pictures and videos of advertising paraphernalia that I used to created this video collage (click image for link).
Again, I got that research-geek thrill to uncover how these tools could potentially benefit all areas of market research:
- “On-demand” Movie/Video Collage Activity
Our participants are able to capture so many timely moments for us on a variety of mobile devices (smartphones, iPads, digital cameras, you name it!). It’s really up to us to deliver a system that organizes and focuses all of this data.
Qwiki is my favorite app of the bunch, as it automates the picture/video selection process into a one-click movie. The app works by automatically stitching together media from the iPhone camera roll and creates a 30-second to one-minute mashup from a certain day or album.
Song selection for the Qwiki occurs from the phone’s music library or from “soundtracks” preloaded in the app. Perfectionists and those of us with additional interest can easily play around with media configurations and change the audio track, which gives us an even deeper look into the mood of the visuals.
Indeed, video collages and movie mashups can bring impressive creativity and flexibility to qualitative research.
- Introductions/Warm-up: share a brief video collage or slideshow of their family, interests, typical day
- Homework or “On-demand” Movie/Video Collage Activity: create video collages and movie mash-up from experiences captured on their phones
- Reporting: integrate a video collage (that we’ve created) of participants’ key pictures and videos for a quick debrief/recap
- Presentations: show a similar video collage to get the discussion started, bringing the project to life!
The seamlessness of such videos add richness and energy to our stories in all of the ways above, as well as any others that we can dream up.
The days of creative departments and contracting with a video editor are by no means “over.” These apps lack the ability to output a professionally designed highlight reel with exact precision, multiple formats, or perfect image resolution, and its related audio effects and capabilities are limited, at best.
Still, these new apps are remarkably efficient, and we’ve certainly found another cool solution to elevate our perceptions of the smarts in our smartphones! Telling a great story is even easier as we ramp up our use of video collages—and make them faster, better and cheaper with today’s mobile capabilities.
What are your suggestions and feedback around these new apps? How are you integrating videos into your current market research efforts? Post a comment to share what you think!
February 1st, 2013
By Bob Relihan, Senior Vice President
No, I am not about to present a sociological treatise here. I want to talk about what it feels like to be a member of a community — a research community. We quite literally ask questions of a good deal of community members. Most of the time we don’t give much thought to them, as long as they are there ready to do their job. Is that fair? Is that short-sighted?
What brought this to mind was that a number of months back, the manufacturer of the car I drive asked me — ME! — to become a member of its users’ group. I was honored and excited. Now, I would be able to find out what the latest models would look like before anyone else. I could explain why I liked its most recent, smaller engine. I could have a real impact on the next generation of cars.
Since that time the manufacturer has indeed had questions for me. What are my favorite social media sites? Where do I see automobile advertising? Am I adventurous or conservative? Do I adopt new technology before most of my friends?
I’ve morphed into “sample.”
Apart from my incredible naiveté at not recognizing that this would happen, what is there to be learned from this experience? There are several lessons for us:
- It didn’t take me long to become annoyed. I am much less likely to respond to my manufacturer’s entreaties for help. In fact, I am less likely to even open the e-mail from “owners group.” I know I am no longer special; I know my thoughts on future cars are really not important.
- And, my opinion of the manufacturer has taken a hit. I used to regard it as seriously at the forefront of engineering excellence. Now, I hesitate to say, they are just another marketer.
When we build communities with the intention of creating a captive sample, we are entering into what has to be a reciprocal relationship with consumers. They expect to help us; we need to ask questions they consider relevant or else they will turn on us and the brands we represent.
Focus group facilities used to have little signs at the front desk — “Your Opinion Counts!” When we build communities, we need to be sure that those opinions count for something consumers regard as relevant.
January 23rd, 2013
By Shaili Bhatt, Senior Analyst
When writing a discussion guide, it’s wonderful to be able to tap into resources that already exist in order to craft a well-rounded discussion.
A treasure trove of creative activities to elicit people’s thoughts and feelings beyond a surface level already exist. They are readily available to moderators of all experience levels, so it’s a big research-geek thrill when inspiration sparks for a projective activity with a new angle!
Our online qual team here at C+R enjoys passing around new links, for information or sheer entertainment. Twitter searches, Pinterest, and social publishers like Mashable, BuzzFeed and Reddit are some of our current sources for inspiration. In fact, when I came across the “What I Really Do” storyboard meme in 2012, one of the Top Memes for 2012, with all of its visual glory and bite-size insights, I was very excited!
The sharing fad around this meme, “What I Really Do,” which you probably saw last year, surreptitiously inspired me to transfer the basic visual layout of the meme to adapt it for use in online qualitative research.
This meme consists of a stylish comic montage of people’s thoughts related to the author/participant and his or her occupation, and boils down to a self-aware confession of “what I really do.”
The visuals are compelling connotations of their perceptions when the author spends time to find just the right pictures. The honesty in that last frame is often insightful, and exudes just the right magic that we qualitative researchers like to capture. In short, this new projective gives us a multi-angle lens into consumers’ lives.
The “What I Really Do” meme works well for research in its multi-frame storyboard layout (usually six frames). For a lighter exercise, I like this twist for the meme-theme:
Participants individually select an image for each of the three buckets. As a flexible, thought-provoking format, it’s easy to change out the “What” to a “Where” or “How,” such as, “Where I Vacationed” or “How I Cooked”, even ask about group perceptions—just change the “I” to “We” (like “What We Watched” or “What We Played”) and refer to friend or family connections in the instructions.
The stories and depictions that people generate through these activities are almost always entertaining and insightful for all involved, and early results suggest these activities would float well across a variety of category discussions.
January 16th, 2013
By Jessica Benoit, Senior Qualitative Analyst
It’s no secret that we live in a fast-paced, multi-tasking, smartphone-reliant, Google-searching society. We’ve grown used to quickly finding the answer to any question by simply reaching for the closest source of the Internet and accessing the information we’re looking for. In fact, instant gratification has increasingly become the norm for society everywhere. So what does that mean for qualitative research? Fast-turnarounds and last-minute research questions are becoming a part of everyday reality; we need answers, and we want them now. So how can we find answers to our research questions as quickly and efficiently as we can find out where our favorite band member enjoys dining on the weekends? Well, maybe we can’t find all the answers quite as quickly as doing a Google search (yet). But as it turns out, with a new method C+R dubs “Flash Qual” we are able to gather meaningful qualitative consumer insight in as quickly as a few short hours.
C+R’s online qualitative department recently conducted a study using the Flash Qual method in order to understand the overall perceptions and attitudes toward the New Year, and to measure the significance of New Year’s resolutions. Using a variety of open-ended questions, photo uploads, and links leading to print and video stimuli, we were able to find out that the great majority of people feel positive and hopeful heading into 2013. Getting a fresh start and setting new goals create a refreshed feeling of having a “second chance.” Most people take the opportunity of a new year to set new goals, both for the year and as a part of their overall life’s journey. Beyond the typical resolutions of losing weight, eating healthy, and saving more money, many people see the new year as a chance to live more meaningfully, to spend more time with loved ones, and take a few more time-outs from technology each day. Furthermore, we were able to quickly garner detailed feedback and opinions on advertising that uses New Year’s resolutions messaging. Similar to how they are feeling about heading into 2013, we discovered that most people find advertising using New Year’s resolutions messaging to be motivational, personally relevant and a gentle reminder of their goals surrounding feeling healthy in the New Year.
So how were we able to find this out in a few short hours? Thanks to the GutCheck research platform that enabled us to recruit respondents and instantly send them into a brief but interactive online community, we were able to quickly interview over 30 respondents and find the answers to our inquiry that very same day. Using our Flash Qual method, we were able to:
- Quickly access and recruit respondents
- Instantly create an online community
- Directly immerse ourselves in a back-and-forth online discussion with respondents
- Inexpensively acquire valuable input that could potentially inform time-sensitive business decisions
Flash Qual thrives because it focuses on collecting rich, top-of-mind key findings; respondents are able to provide colorful feedback and creative, to-the-point responses without unnecessary distraction. We heavily screen for articulation and set high expectations upfront for what we are looking for from respondents. By limiting the number of questions we ask, Flash Qual doesn’t waste any time getting to the main point. Though the collection of responses is not quite as holistically involved or in-depth as a typical-length online research community, the results nonetheless yield purely qualitative insights and top-of-mind key takeaways needed for quick insight and last-minute decision-making time crunches.
As the phrase “fast-paced society” continues to mean an exponentially quicker pace and greater satisfaction with instant access to information sought, Flash Qual is likely here to stay for the long run.